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Interpretative Rules

Interpretative rule is one among the categories of rules developed by administrative agencies in the exercise of lawmaking powers.  When the legislature finds areas in statutes where it is impractical for lawmakers to apply expertise, it delegates the lawmaking function to administrative agencies.  The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) is the law under which administrative agencies create rules and regulations necessary to implement and enforce major legislative acts.  The federal APA categorizes administrative rules as legislative rules, interpretive rules, procedural rules, and general statements of policy.

Interpretative rules are rules issued by an administrative agency to clarify or explain existing laws or regulations.  An interpretative rule does not attempt to create a new law or modify existing ones.[i] The rule only provides clarifications or explanations to a statute or regulation.[ii] Interpretative rules create no enforceable rights and only remind affected parties of existing duties.  The rules merely state how an agency understands a statute.  Interpretative rules only interpret the statute and thus guide the administrative agency in performing its duties.  An interpretative statement simply indicates an agency’s reading of a statute.[iii]

Some examples of interpretative rules are agency manuals, guidelines, and memoranda of administrative agencies.

Generally, the APA provides that the public should be informed about rules created.  Therefore, notice on the rule is to be published and comments received from the public should be applied to the rules if they are not against government policy.  However, an interpretive rule does not have to meet the requirements concerning notice to the public and opportunity for comment set out in the APA.[iv] This is because an interpretive rule does not have the force of law.

When an administrative agency has an obligation to enforce or administer a statute, the agency will have the power to create interpretative rules that explain the procedure to enforce the statute.  Administrative agencies create interpretative rules when there is confusion and disagreement over the meaning of a statute and when the ambiguity should be clarified.  An interpretative rule can be identified by lack of complexity, and lack of drastic subsequent changes brought forward by the rule.  But the major criterion that distinguishes an interpretative rule from the other rules is an agency’s incapability to enforce the rule.

[i] Paralyzed Veterans of Am. v. West, 138 F.3d 1434 (Fed. Cir. 1998)

[ii] Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Quigg, 710 F. Supp. 728 (N.D. Cal. 1989)

[iii] First Nat’l Bank v. Sanders, 946 F.2d 1185 (6th Cir. Tenn. 1991)

[iv] Castellini v. Lappin, 365 F. Supp. 2d 197 (D. Mass. 2005)

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